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Rx for Survival — A Global Health Challenge

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About the Project


About the Rx for Survival Project

During the twentieth century, the world lived through a golden era in public health: vaccines were discovered, diseases were cured, and the average life expectancy rose by many years. In recent decades, however, this stunning progress has declined dramatically. Although life expectancy remains high in developed nations, in many countries of the developing world it has actually fallen.

The march to better world health has been slowed by the emergence of new and devastating diseases such as AIDS, SARS and West Nile virus, by microbial resistance to many modern drugs and by a global travel network that can turn a local disease into an international outbreak in a matter of hours.

Recognizing the impact of both the slow down in medical advances and the speeding up of new and stronger diseases, the award-winning documentary team of WGBH's NOVA Science Unit and Vulcan Productions, Inc., has co-produced a groundbreaking multimedia project to address what makes us sick, what keeps us healthy and what it would take to give good health the upper hand.

Anchored by a compelling six-hour PBS television series that premiered November 1-3, 2005 and a two-hour special presentation on April 12, 2006, Rx for Survival — A Global Health Challenge encompasses a wealth of companion elements from major media and educational partners, including TIME Magazine, NPR, Penguin Press, and Johns Hopkins University. Together these combine to make this project the most comprehensive global health media education project ever mounted.

Heightened awareness, however, is not the only goal of Rx for Survival. The ultimate objective of the project is to translate awareness into action. Because global health is such a large and complex issue, we are shining a spotlight on one area which is both critical and surprisingly easy to affect. Across the world, children from birth to age 5 need basic health interventions (e.g.,rehydration, vaccines, and vitamin A and micronutrients) to have even a chance to survive. Rx for Child Survival encourages each of us to get involved to ensure that these basic needs are delivered to children locally and globally by speaking out, volunteering time and energy, and donating to programs that are already making a difference.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Merck Company Foundation, Rx for Survival and Rx for Child Survival have been developed in partnership with the Global Health Council and with the advice of other leading global health experts and organizations.

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Project Components

Television Broadcasts

The centerpiece of Rx for Survival is a six-hour, primetime television series produced by the WGBH/NOVA Science Unit and Vulcan Productions. Filmed in more than 20 nations around the world, and combining historical vignettes with contemporary documentary stories, Rx for Survival tells the moving tales of extraordinary public health pioneers, past and present, and captures the real life drama of today's struggle to overcome poor health and rampant disease.

In addition, a special two-hour presentation, Rx for Survival — The Heroes, presents the true stories of individuals whose creativity, leadership and determination are giving hope to people who have known only poverty and disease, but who can now dream of a safer and healthier future.

Learn more about the complete series and the two-hour special.


Web Site

This Web site gives users the chance to learn more about global health and to get involved in giving children around the world a fighting chance at life.

The Rx for Survival television series include:

  • The Television Broadcasts — Learn more about the broadcast programs, their creators, and the content of each episode.
  • Watch Program Video — Watch selected individual stories from the complete Rx for Survival series online.
  • Why Global Health Matters — Weigh arguments for and against a greater commitment to global health initiatives.
  • Global Health Atlas — Explore the distribution of many of the world's most troubling diseases and some of the socioeconomic factors that affect their prevalence and impact.
  • Deadly Diseases — Discover the nature, origin, causes, and consequences of many of humanity's most feared diseases.
  • Global Health Champions — Delve into stories of present-day men and women who are saving lives around the world and profoundly changing global health outcomes.
  • Politics and Global Health — Learn how the world's major public health institutions are organized, governed, and interrelated, and how to influence U.S. federal health policies.
  • Ask the Experts — Pose your own questions about vaccines, international aid, and the danger of another deadly flu pandemic. Then read how global health experts respond.
  • Dispatches from the Field — Explore first-person accounts of life at the forefront of the battle for global health.
  • For Teachers — Enhance the teaching and understanding of global health in high school science and social studies classes.
  • Glossary — Short definitions for key words and terms used in features throughout the site.
  • Resources — Materials that will be helpful to those seeking a more comprehensive understanding of global health challenges and solutions.

The project's campaign — Rx for Child Survival — offers tools to enable users to get involved in the an array of activities that will have a positive impact on child health and survival worldwide. Calls to action include:

  • Donate — One of the most direct ways you can help is through a donation that will ensure children receive basic health interventions.
  • Speak Out — Follow health legislation and policy in the making. Let your friends, neighbors, and policymakers know what you think.
  • Give Time — Volunteer your time, host an event, or engage in a hands-on activity to learn more and help others engage with the issues.
  • Spread the Word — Use the e-postcards and link to us tools to tell others about the triumphs and challenges of building a healthy world.

Rx for Child Survival

Rx for Child Survival focuses attention on one area within global health to shine a spotlight on some of the ways we can each get involved. Public television stations around the country joined with organizations from UNICEF to Rotary International to Girl Scouts of the USA to create Community Coalitions that held series screenings, facilitated town meetings, celebrated international cultures, and sponsored the kinds of educational events intended to mobilize the country into taking action. Professional organizations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the Pan American Health Organization also worked with us to broaden their memberships' understanding of the current crises and challenges in child health and to move their members to action.

Learn More about Rx for Child Survival.


Media Partner Initiatives

During the week of November 1, 2005, when Rx for Survival premiered nationwide on PBS:

  • TIME Magazine published a special issue and hosted an international summit of health experts and policymakers; TIME's international edition and TIME for Kids also had global health focused issues.
  • NPR included stories about global health on many of its nationally broadcast shows.
  • The Penguin Press published a companion book.

Education Initiatives

  • Stories, outreach materials and teacher resources are available on this site.
  • Johns Hopkins University is developing an undergraduate curriculum about global health, that will be available for the fall semester of 2006.

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